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I just catch myself thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I won the US Open!’

MATT FITZPATRIC­K had a lull after last year’s major victory, but as he prepares for Sawgrass this week, he has a spring in his step and more glory in his sights

- By Riath Al-Samarrai Sportswrit­er of the Year

THERE is a fun and untold tale about Matt Fitzpatric­k which goes back almost a decade. It talks to what might be considered a recurring theme around recognitio­n and the difficulti­es of transporti­ng success from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

It was shared with Sportsmail several years ago by a friend of his at Hallamshir­e Golf Club in Sheffield and related to the aftermath of Fitzpatric­k winning the US Amateur Championsh­ip at Brookline in 2013.

That was a seriously big deal. Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were all past champions. But an Englishman? Not for 102 years. So Fitzpatric­k felt good about himself, an 18-year- old with a world of possibilit­ies, but still needed some extra cash to see out the year, which meant he applied for a job at Tesco. You can probably guess the rest.

Fast forward a few years and Fitzpatric­k is having a giggle. ‘I would very much love to know who told you that,’ he says. ‘But it’s true — I didn’t get it. It would have been after the US Amateur and from memory I was quite picky with the hours. I was saying, “I can’t do this time of day, but I have a bit of time in the afternoon”. It didn’t go my way, funnily enough.’

Funny how scenarios can repeat. Funny how life can work out.

We are talking on a cold winter’s afternoon in the UK and a beautiful morning in Florida. Fitzpatric­k is chatting to Sportsmail by a video call on his way to playing a few holes as he readies himself for the meaty chunk of a huge new season, which escalates tomorrow with the Players Championsh­ip at Sawgrass, that self- styled fifth major.

This time a year ago, he would have held a lesser presence on the golfing radar. But he has clocked that folk look at him differentl­y these days and it has been that way since he flushed a shot out of a bunker in June.

What a beauty that was and what a moment. It was Brookline again, the last hole of the US Open with a one-stroke lead, and he had finally caved to the suggestion­s of the marvellous man on his bag, Billy Foster, to hit a three wood. The driver, his weapon of choice all week, would be needlessly risky, so yes, OK, three wood it was.

And straight into the trap it went, a grassy lip close enough that it might swallow anything a fraction off, and with it all of those dreams. Taking a quick look at the lie, Foster’s heart sank. But Fitzpatric­k nailed a nine iron to the e green from 161 yards and d two-putted his way to a major title.

For many who care for r such discussion­s, it was s one of the greatest pieces s of sporting theatre in n 2022, one of the finest t British sporting accomplish­ments of f recent years, in fact. Which h takes us back to o recognitio­n, or rather the e curious lack thereof of from the BBC Sports s Personalit­y panel, who did d not include Fitzpatric­k on n their shortlist of six in n December.

He is laughing again, this Sheffield lad of 28. He could not care less.

‘It doesn’t bother me in the slightest really,’ he says. ‘Maybe 10 years ago, when I remember watching Sports Personalit­y, because I was home more regularly and in tune with the BBC, it might have bothered me a little bit, but really it doesn’t. I have not lost any sleep over it.’

He is a good sort, Fitzpatric­k. People who know him tend to like him and always have.

They admired the methodical grind of the skinny kid who had gold in his iron game but was short off the tee in an era of monsters. They admired that for every shot from the age of 15 to now, casual or competitiv­e, he has written down his yardage, the conditions, the club and the outcome and mined progress from being a ‘data nerd’ with braces. They admired

that he adopted a new swing technique from a biomechani­cs guru and coaxed out an extra 20 yards or so off the tee, when he had already worked out that an extra 1mph in his swing speed was worth two yards on the course and 10 yards on the course was worth 0.4 strokes per round.

They admired that he crosses his

hands while chipping and found success there, as well.

Now that all the experiment­s and graft are paying off, with a major in the bag and a world ranking that currently stands at 12, people like how unaffected he is by it all. But that too has been a journey.

When we speak, Fitzpatric­k is in a reflective mood about the months that followed such a big breakthrou­gh. Perhaps unsurprisi­ngly, there have been emotional undulation­s.

‘I remember after winning there was obviously incredible excitement, joy and happiness,’ he says. ‘But there was definitely a little bit of relief in there as well. It’s a major, we dream of those, and to get one was huge for me. I had times earlier in my career worrying (about not achieving his potential), so winning was a nice feeling.

‘I will occasional­ly catch myself thinking, “Oh yeah, I won the US Open”, and you do notice very occasional­ly when you are walking along that people look back and do a double take.

‘But those months afterwards, and we are talking a while ago now, it was an interestin­g time for me, a bit different. I don’t know exactly what it was, but after the US Open, my time just felt much more important to me. I wanted to spend time with the people I wanted to spend time with.

‘Before it was always golf, golf, golf, practising all the time. After winning it was like: “There is more

‘I want to win as many majors as possible but they don’t just happen. If I was lucky enough to get six that would be great’

to life than just golf”. At first it was hard. I remember having a conversati­on with my best pal that I was struggling a little bit with motivation and just felt a bit flat and wanted a break to do my own thing a little bit. I think that is natural up to a point.’

ItIs a feeling familiar to many sportspeop­le who have climbed their respective mountains. For Fitzpatric­k, having spent Christmas watching sheffield United, among other things, the relief is that those wobbles passed ahead of a big season comprising the majors and a Ryder Cup in Rome. All of that against the politics and dramas of LIV.

Within the bung- storm of the latter, Fitzpatric­k has been a fascinatin­g if reluctant voice. He has previously spoken of turning down an offer from the breakaway series, favouring ‘ legacy and trophies’, but he also admitted in interviews to having a natural curiosity about the exact dimensions of their proposal.

One was made to him and his touring pro brother, Alex, prior to the Us Open win, with Sportsmail having heard a rumour it was some way below $10million.

‘It wasn’t that, it was much less than that,’ says Fitzpatric­k, who like a number of golfers has grown weary of a debate that has dominated their sport.

‘I’ve said to a few people that I just want to play golf and you get a bit fed up of talking about it,’ he says. ‘We’re at a point where I don’t know the answers and I don’t know really how everything is.’

that being said, and with all the legal unknowns of whether LIV rebels can join him on Luke Donald’s European Ryder Cup team, Fitzpatric­k reiterates he would have no issue lining up with them against the UsA.

It is a notion that Rory McIlroy would not personally be able to stomach, but for Fitzpatric­k, twice on the wrong side of heavy defeats for his two Cup matches, the needs are a little more straightfo­rward.

‘I just want to win,’ he says. ‘I’ve been on two losing teams and it’s tough, so that’s probably a reason why I’m pretty fine with just having the best players. I want to know what it feels like to be on a winning team!’ For now it is a box unticked and one that sits among others in his broader hopes for his career.

‘Winning one major was always the goal,’ he says. ‘Literally one. Getting it was such a big step because I hadn’t really challenged for one before.

‘I had a fifth at the Us PGA and a bit of a backdoor top 10 in 2016 at the Masters, but you get one and it opened up the debate in my head of, “OK, what’s next?”.

‘the easy answer is I want to win as many as possible, but they don’t just happen. It’s hard. If I was lucky enough to get to six that would be great.’

that would tie him with sir Nick Faldo as the most successful English golfer in history, not an easy target in this of all sports.

‘Yeah, six was a bit of a magic number that me and my manager once made up — that if you’ve got six you’re kind of in a different level of the sport.

‘that would be a dream, but I am realistic. It’s very, very hard. But we have to try for something, don’t we?’

Pull it off and he might even get on the sports Personalit­y of the Year shortlist.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Iconic moment: Fitzpatric­k plays that brilliant shot out of a fairway bunker on the last hole of the US Open at Brookline
GETTY IMAGES Iconic moment: Fitzpatric­k plays that brilliant shot out of a fairway bunker on the last hole of the US Open at Brookline
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 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? All smiles: Fitzpatric­k lifts the US Open trophy back in June
GETTY IMAGES All smiles: Fitzpatric­k lifts the US Open trophy back in June

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